04 March 2011


Twelve Things about Nine

12. For some reason, I thought I would really, really hate this movie.

And then . . . I didn't.

11. Now, I should say that I'm not at all familiar with the Broadway musical--which is a bit frustrating. =S I feel I can't critique the actors' performances as deeply as I usually do, because I don't know how the roles were played before this--or even how I'd cast the musical on my own.

Something drummed into me in Shakespeare class was the idea that plays are living texts that are not meant for a single production but which can be reinterpreted as many times, and in as many contexts, as there are producers with imagination.

This is just Rob Marshall's Nine. I feel limited in not knowing about anyone else's Nine--and in not having my own.

10. What makes it worse is that the musical was inspired by the life and career of Frederico Fellini . . . and I've never seen a Fellini film!

I knew a guy in uni who kept trying to get girls to watch some Fellini with him. And he was such a character that it was more fun for everyone to keep saying no than to give in. (Yeah, but who's laughing now, aye?)

And yet my position of embarrassing ignorance is actually working for this review. It led me to the following point . . .

9. There have been thousands of cheap shots against the Catholic Church in all sorts of art, and as soon as I saw the clerics make their entrance, I braced myself for another.

It never came.

On the one hand, you can say the priests are hypocrites for publicly condemning controversial movies and privately putting on amateur productions of the same. But that's just the easy interpretation, which we arrive at immediately because we don't like staid and stodgy men dictating our entertainment.

Yet with the black and white of their cassocks and collars comes a very sensitive and complex approach to art: the understanding that it takes a properly formed mind to appreciate beauty without being led astray by it.

8. Incidentally, it also takes a properly formed sexuality to appreciate a woman without being led astray by her--and priests know that, too, even if they are often incredibly clumsy about their role in this formation. Note the flashback in which the young Guido is thrashed by the priest headmaster for taking his classmates to see a prostitute dance. Who doesn't sympathise with the boy, who was only following his natural fascinations as a male and as an artist? I wonder if anyone sympathises with the frustrated father figure who sees where all this is leading but isn't quite equipped to stop it.

And where does it lead? To the present--where it is clear that Guido has always appreciated women, seeing something in them that even they might not know is there, and painting them with his camera so that each one becomes an unforgettable Beauty to the rest of the world . . . and where it is even clearer that his "appreciation" of the women closest to him rings completely hollow. He uses them, hurts them and does not even see that he does it.

Guido might be the wonderful artistic genius . . . but the priest who thrashed him was right.

7. Guido! Guido! Guido! Is there any role Daniel Day-Lewis does not immediately disappear into as if he had been born to play it? Seriously.

Eat your heart out, Mr. Melanie Griffith!

6. The actresses, on the other hand, are more of a mixed bag. I'll need more than "Twelve Things" if I want to mention them all (which I do), so bear with me. Let's begin with the two women in Guido's self-centred love triangle: his mistress and his wife . . .

Warning: Near Occasion of Sin!!!

Every time Carla was on screen, I wanted to slap her for the stupid decision to carry on with a married man who isn't her husband--and I found a kind of sick pleasure watching her gradually realise the truth about Guido's feelings for her. (Bad me. But nice job making me hate you, Penelope Cruz!)

Luisa, on the other hand, quite broke my heart. Marion Cotillard turns the lyric "My husband makes movies" into the saddest four words in the world. I think I love her now.

5. Then there are the women who help Guido make those movies. (Luisa is part of this "tier" as well, but I don't want to run on about her too much.)

I didn't recognise Dame Judi Dench at all, and when I saw her name in the credits at the end, I had to think for a moment more before I realised she was Lili. Anyone who can go from playing England's queens to a "lowly" costume designer is just fabulous. She is very maternal toward both Guido and Luisa, and I like her character.

In contrast, when I saw Nicole Kidman, I kept telling myself that I wasn't seeing Nicole Kidman. Surely the filmmakers weren't silly enough to cast someone so obviously not Italian as the Muse of Italy? Yet Kidman arguably delivers both the ethereal beauty and elusiveness that Guido sees in Claudia and strives to paint with his camera . . . and the frustration of a woman who knows that this image means that he will always admire her but never love her. Not to be too meta about this now, but Kidman could have totally dedicated this song to Tom Cruise.

4. Four down, three to go. I'm liking these musical numbers . . .

Oh, that prostitute I mentioned earlier? Fergie plays her. And I'm not sure how I feel about it. Saraghina is a larger-than-life, almost archetypal character: it seems wrong to cast someone best known for highly commercialised Pop/Dance/Hip-hop singles to play her. On the other hand . . . I didn't recognise Fergie at all when I watched her--and many other viewers agree she was virtually unrecognisable--so who is to say she doesn't "work"?

A friend of mine saw this movie last year and tried to tell me about it. All I remember is her complaint that Kate Hudson is "so American" that she ruins the entire movie. At the time, I found it completely unfair: Hudson can't help being an American, you know . . . and she is indeed "so American" that the producers must have cast her for that very quality. And then I finally saw the movie as well . . . and found myself agreeing with my friend. There is something about Hudson that is like nails on a chalkboard. I really wish they had cast somebody else.

3. And now for the only actress who doesn't have to share a number!

Well, who else in the world could they have cast??? I wasn't too excited at first, because the last time I heard Sophia Loren singing, she was doing comic duets with Peter Sellers. (Which is not to say I don't love Bangers and Mash!) And well, I do think her lullaby gets lost amid all the drama--sandwiched as it is between Guido's sincere attempts to clean up the mess he made with Carla and to patch things up with Luisa. Perhaps if they had put it a little later in the movie . . . ?

2. Best line: "You think to create is to forgive yourself in public. Fine. But I don't think I can forgive you in private."

Luisa says it, of course. It's not easy to be so intimate with someone who thinks that everything between you is fair fuel for the expression of some sublime vision.

I want to tell her: "Look on the bright side:
it's better to be fuel for artistic Italian cinema
than some studiedly self-deprecating Mommy blog."

But that's little consolation.

1. Finally . . . if this is a movie about making movies, why do all our movie director's fantasies look like productions for the stage? Yes, we all know that Nine was a Broadway play before it was a movie. But surely now that the pendulum has swung all the way back to the original medium, the art direction could reflect that?

We do get some real movie (set) magic in the ending--which I love--when the director and his younger self, who have found a common artistic vision at last, are finally ready to start a new film with the most magical word in cinema: "Action!"

Image Sources: a) Nine poster, b) 8 1/2 poster


Jillian said...

I was lucky enough to have seen this musical live, and loved it. I watched this film adaptation when it came out because I loved the play so much. I have got to say, it was good, but definitely not as good of an adaptation as let's say, Chicago. (have you seen the movie?) There were a couple of standout scenes though,but my favorite has got to be Marion Cottilard's version of 'My Husband Makes Movies.' Everything about that scene was perfect, in my opinion.

As for Kate Hudson, I think she was quite perfect for the role simply because the role calls for a very stereotypical American person. I don't really care for her, but she did well with the work she was given.

What other movie musicals have you seen? :)

Enbrethiliel said...


Do you mean the revival with Antonio Banderas? Lucky you!

Yes, I've seen Chicago, too. =) And I grew watching a lot of classic MGM musicals--and of course, the Rogers & Hammerstein adapations. Do animated features count? If so, then toss Disney and Don Bluth into the mix!

I guess I'd have to watch 8 1/2 before I can properly evaluate Kate Hudson's performance here. I just know she was annoying--and believe that this effect wasn't the filmmakers' intention. (And now to undercut everything I've said: Cinema Italiano was one of my favourite numbers. Odd, that.)

Matheus F. Ticiani said...

Nice review...gave me a much better impression of the movie than its trailer.

Have you ever considered doing a "12 Things About" Jumpin' Jack Flash? Saw it the other day after many years and had loads of fun.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Matheus! =)

A lot of the movies I review are those I catch by chance on cable. If I have a couple of free hours one night, a movie happens to be on, and I can think of something worthwhile to say about it at the end, then it usually gets reviewed. (Especially if it's a Horror flick!) So I'm not sure about when I'll get to see Jumpin' Jack Flash (the Whoopi Goldberg movie, right?), but if it shows up in the movie listings of my TV Guide, I will try to catch it.